DURHAM, N.C. — Embattled Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline said Monday that she agonized over her decision to accuse a Superior Court judge of corruption last fall.
In the third day of a rare judicial inquiry, Cline faced cross-examination from lawyers who lodged complaints against her for her attacks on Judge Orlando Hudson.
She has in recent months repeatedly accused Hudson of bias against her and has asked to have him barred from handling criminal cases in Durham County. Two other Superior Court judges have found her complaints to be groundless.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood suspended Cline last month, pending the inquiry he's hearing, saying there was probable cause to support the notion that she had "brought the office of the Durham County District Attorney and the entire Durham County justice system into disrepute."
Final arguments in the hearing are expected Thursday, and Hobgood said he would issue his ruling later.
"I'm not sitting here on some fabricated fairy tale," Cline testified Monday. "This is the truth."
Hudson repeatedly moved cases around on the criminal court docket, making it difficult for prosecutors to prepare, she said. He also dismissed two murder cases since December 2010, accusing Cline in his written orders of withholding evidence in one case and of conspiring with police and state authorities in the other to destroy evidence.
Cline has denied both allegations, and she said they upset her so much that she sought ways last fall to remedy the situation. Hudson refused to discuss the matter with her, she said.
"I went to him saying, 'Please tell me what's wrong.' I knew there was something wrong," she said. "My goal was to try to clean up whatever was going on."
Attorney Stephen Lindsay repeatedly asked whether Cline consulted the ethical rules for lawyers before filing her motions against Hudson.
She said her motions don't attack Hudson directly, only his actions, so they shouldn't be considered an ethical violation. She said she has never showed any disrespect to the judge in the courtroom.
Cline sought guidance
Cline said she asked the state Attorney General's Office and the North Carolina State Bar for guidance – she hoped the latter agency would bring in a mediator to handle the dispute – and filed a complaint with the state Judicial Standards Commission.
Cline said she decided she couldn't wait for the commission, which disciplines judges for improper behavior, to act. So, after what she described as extensive prayer and discussions with family and friends, she filed several motions seeking to remove Hudson from cases.
"You think I want to be in this position?" she said. "I did everything I could. It came to a point where, if this continued to happen, it wasn't justice.
"When you talk about being between a rock and a hard place, how could I do my job if I'm not allowed to do my job and protect the citizens of this county?" she said. "I have done everything I could do. What else was left to do? What else?"
As she did during her testimony Friday, Cline said she wished the language she used in the motions wasn't so harsh. Yet, after Lindsay rattled off a series of words and phrases Cline used in the motions, she declined to say what she would have changed.
"I take full responsibility for the language used," she said, adding that no one in her office or with the State Bar or Attorney General's Office advised her on filing the motions.
Judge, police chief support Cline
Several witnesses testified in Cline's defense, saying her accusations against Hudson haven't adversely affected the court system in Durham County.
"Our courts have worked well. They continue to work," Chief District Judge Marcia Morey said. "This may be a distraction to the administration of justice, but it's by no means slowed it down or derailed it."
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez and veteran defense attorney Bill Cotter also disagreed with the contention that Cline's actions brought disrepute on the court system.
"Most people who know anything about it believe it's a quarrel between two people," Cotter said.
When Cotter said he wouldn't have used some of the phrases Cline used, Lindsay asked whether he thought such verbiage violated ethical standards for lawyers.
"I think that would be a great question for the State Bar as opposed to this petition," Cotter replied.